8 Steps to prepare your Applications for Holiday Shopping Season

Year-end shopping activities are a challenge for retailers. Millions of buyers are seeking the best gift for their beloved ones, and a considerable proportion is doing this online. Hundreds of stores are providing comparable products. Users convert to buyers if usability and the price are within their expectations. If one of both is bad, they will  spend their money on another store.

According to research, more than 70 percent of retailers websites are too slow, and shoppers expect load times of less than 3 seconds. Those players who realized the importance of speed pushed themselves to the forefront on this highly competitive market. In this post, I will give you some insights how forward-thinking players prepare their websites for holiday shopping season. It’s not about massive investments. If you follow this checklist, you will significantly improve your sales during the next shopping season.

# 6 Month ahead

Integrate performance into your development chain.

Specify your average and peak hour load pattern, identify essential use cases, implement load test and execute several stress tests to make sure that your website can handle black Friday user and data volumes.

Review the monitoring stack and close potential gaps.

There must be an automatic simulation of critical use cases on a predefined schedule, a monitoring of all transactions and a monitoring of system resource utilization. Set thresholds for those collected metrics and escalate any violations on established notification channels such as ticketing system, SMS or e-Mail.

# 3 Month ahead

Check the involved machines.

Your infrastructure might be sufficient for an average business day, but in peak shopping hours it can become a bottleneck quickly. It’s not only about how many CPUs and Memory your servers have available. Compare actual average and max system resource metrics such as IO, CPU load, Memory utilization, and make sure that there is also enough capacity for a factor 10 higher peak load situation. An often neglected topic is disk space of your machines.

House keeping.

Your application will crash if there is not enough space on the disks of your servers available. It’s a good practice to verify also the log level. Production environments should not make use of debug logging options because the corresponding overhead and performance slowdown can be massive.

# 2 weeks ahead

No deployments around the peak shopping season.

Streamline all activities in your organization and avoid that any maintenance task during peak holiday shopping season will draw a risk on your web shops reliability. It makes sense that businesses establish a frozen zone which starts two weeks prior the critical holiday shopping period and ends one week after this event. You should also review the holiday schedule of your teams.

Availability of support teams.

Make sure that experienced support teams and developers are available and build awareness about the importance of this event for your organization. Quick issue detection, analysis, and remediation are essential.

# 1 day ahead

Review working plan.

Conduct a final review and discuss the working plan with your teams. Check system resource utilization, run a few acceptance tests and verify that all steps of your shop are working as intended.

Final review of the major business processes.

Last but not least check your monitoring system, raise test alerts and make sure that your support teams received those and are equipped to perform with their root-cause analysis.

Some essential steps in your Holiday Shopping system preparation checklist should be:

  • Load and Performance Tests
  • Monitoring of all layers
  • Alerting based on thresholds
  • Frozen zone
  • Check actual system resource utilization
  • Provide enough spare capacity
  • Review working plans
  • Validate key processes end-to-end

Don’t lay back after peak shopping seasons. Investigate collected metrics such as the number of concurrent users, response times, error rates and potential bottlenecks. This valuable information should be shared with your DEV and QA teams because they can align plans accordingly.

It’s in your hand to make the next shopping season an even more significant success. This preparation steps will pay several times back. Think forward and continue doing the right things.

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